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Adblockers are a “protection racket”, says senior politician

The UK culture secretary is worried about the demise of the publishing industry, but he's directing fire at the wrong target.

More than a few publishers and advertising executives have launched verbal bombs at adblocking companies, and some have tried lawsuits to halt the rise of adblockers.

Now those publishers and ad-slingers have a powerful ally in John Whittingdale, the UK’s secretary for culture, media and sport, who oversees the government’s regulation of media, including online media.

In a speech at the Oxford Media Convention, Whittingdale called adblocking companies a “modern-day protection racket.”

The Guardian reports that Whittingdale didn’t go as far as to propose “an outright ban on adblocking,” but the secretary said he “shared the concern” of the newspaper industry and would “consider what role there is for the government.”

Not all adblockers make revenue from advertisers: for example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation supports an adblocker called Privacy Badger which is free to all and makes no money for the EFF.

But publishing and advertising companies have been sharply critical of the business model of adblocking companies like Eyeo, the creator of the hugely popular Adblock Plus.

Adblock Plus doesn’t make money from the millions of people who use its desktop and mobile browser extensions (like so much on the web, Adblock Plus is “free”).

Instead, the company makes money through an “acceptable ads” program, by charging big advertisers for “whitelisting” ads that meet a murky set of standards.

Another profit-making adblocker, Brave, was recently launched by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

Brave’s business model involves blocking some “bad ads” and replacing them with ads from advertisers that pay to be on Brave’s own advertising network of “clean ads” that meet its standards of not slowing down page load times or tracking users.

This is likely where the mafia metaphor comes from – as in, the mob (adblockers) won’t burn down your business (website), so long as you pay for a little protection (“acceptable ads”).

Randall Rothenburg, head of the industry group the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said during the IAB’s annual conference in January that Adblock Plus is “an old-fashioned extortion racket.”

He added that consumers of news sites prefer ad-supported sites to those that charge a fee for content, and as such “the adblock profiteers are subverting the will of consumers.”

It’s true that most consumers don’t want to pay for content on the web, although some big publishers like the New York Times have used paywalls for years to some success.

Websites like have recently begun following a different model of blocking those who use adblockers, unless they disable their adblockers when visiting the site or pay a subscription fee.

That strategy could backfire.

We asked in a survey how Naked Security readers would respond to publishers requiring them to disable their adblockers, and 76% said they would “stop using the website,” while 12% said they would disable their adblockers on the site and just 5.5% said they would pay for the subscription version of the site.

Publishing companies clearly think adblockers are hurting their bottom line, and that’s unfortunate.

But it’s clear that consumers are stampeding towards adblockers and shunning ads for very legitimate reasons:

  • To safeguard their privacy from ads that track them across the web.
  • To make their web experience faster and less annoying.
  • To protect themselves from compromised ad networks that deliver malware.

Whittingdale said he plans to bring together representatives of the publishing, advertising and adblocking industries, presumably to strike some sort of compromise.

If government regulators wants to get involved to save the publishing industry from its shrinking ad revenues, by all means they should look at the source of the problem: an advertising framework that is so out of control that consumers can no longer abide it.

Image of Mafia boss courtesy of


Yesterday I sent “@WIRED: adblocker blocking is not in your best long term interest. signed: Print Subscriber”

Not surprisingly “No response.”


Ghostery, which I’ve found far more useful than AdBlock, ironically makes money by collecting user data to help advertisers target their ads.

uBlock Origin is a FOSS plugin and the maintainer specifically refuses donations for his work.


If an ad was just an Ad and Not a Tracking “””device”” with all the cookies attached plus a 2/3 screen occupier when I’m seeing a site – THEN I would gladly remove my ad blocking .


There is no stopping add blocking. If some how they criminalize browser plug-ins, the masses will just end up using Firewall rules (I do) to block out add host.
Might be a good time to start a DNS company (like OpenDNS) to not only block out malware, but major add pushers too.
Politicians should protect human rights, not restrict them for corporations gains.


If an Ad was just that and not a tracking device with cookies following my website view; or an ad(s) that not Occupy 2/3 of a page . Then YES I would remove my ad blocking. THe Racketeers here are the Ad agencies that Sell my Internet usage for THEIR PROFIT


I’ve noticed sites fighting back as they disable features unless you whitelist the site. Generally I move on. It is amazing big data has upto 20 trackers on some sites.


I actually whitelisted And lo and behold, I was still blocked from reading their content.

But a coworker found that if you use Firefox’s Reader View, the ads never show and the “block” page never comes up. Kinda good for me who blogs stuff like this and need to occasionally visit Wired.


I think the protection racket analogy falls short. One crucial difference is that the “will of the market” has been to demand and use ad blocking software. I think the analogy of a union is more appropriate: people were tired of abusive behavior from websites (annoying, tracking ads) and banned together to protect their interests (an enjoyable www experience).


I’ve only installed ad blockers at my company because of malware. If the ad world had invested in the correct security, we would not have had to do this!


The last paragraph sums it up beautifully: an out of control advertising framework. In fact it seems to be an excellent example of the Tragedy of the Commons (, a theory in which individuals, each pursuing their own self-interests, collectively over-exploit a common resource resulting in its destruction. Advertisers vie with one another with the prominence of their ads to the point where all of them are a turn-off, and worse, whilst doing so they fail to recognise or address the malvertising problem. Let them first get their house in order and then we can think about whether ad blockers are a good idea or not.


Advertisements of any forms are created by marketers who basically want to SELL you some product or service in real life or on the internet. With the help of an advertisement they try to psychologically induce the need for that product service in your mind because they want your money by making you their customer. In marketing, we call this the AIDA concept, the phase of need recognition, need creation, etc. along with a bunch of other theories. So 90 % of the time, every advertisement in any form is a tiny propaganda message of some sorts. And as a sentient smart human being of the 21st century, why would you give in to any kind of propaganda message at all? Continue using ad-blockers as hard as you can! Break the consumerist culture.


There is nothing to stop websites hosting their own adverts on their own website. Most adblockers work by blocking known advertising domains which link into their website. If they hosted their own adverts they would a) Be directly responsible for any malicious javascript / flash malware and thus be be more vigilant, b) Would not be able to track visitors across multiple websites, c) Guarantee their ads would be shown!

Only advertising companies would be directly affected by this move, but let’s face it, it was their own shady practices that gave rise to adblockers in the first place.

What is required is a different approach to showing adverts. How about a) Stop tracking everyone, b) Take responsibility for malware attacks, c) Stop really irritating flash animations / audio on by default / taking up the majority of my screen etc. d) Make the advert relevant to what is on the webpage. PPC / CTR etc. are broken and it is unlikely to be fixed without a change in attitude. Websites that rely on advertising are going to have to start dealing with advertisers directly rather than third party ad-farms.


If the commercial Ad-Blocking software became banned users would simply turn to open-source, freeware versions. As a programmer I’d happily contribute to such a project as an exercise in being a decent human being.


Let’s make it simple; everything that is believed to be of value is presented with a price. Casual visitors (not members, or signed in associates) are offered access to the “high value” webpages and given access for a price. That will be the exact same process as buying a subscription to a magazine.

Those who don’t wish to pay are free to pass on and ignore that value.

And then let’s see who’s ass goes down the drain, and who continues to prosper.


Firefox + NoScript…. i still see some ads but its blocks 99% of the junk you don’t want to see. Plus it educates you on what scripts are being used by the website. Every single day i stumble upon a website using 80+ scripts… so its their own damn fault, there should NEVER be that many scripts running.

These websites like wired should know they are just killing off readers. Maybe they should come up with a revenue model that isn’t from 1999.


Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites globally with more content than any paper – yet no ads.


Malvertising is the reason every day more companies activate the “advertising networks” category filter on their proxy servers. Given that corporate employees constitute probably the largest pool of web surfers who don’t use plugins and ad blockers in their browsers, this can only go one way.


Whittingdale needs to loose his job. Urgently.

Yes, there is a racket. No, it is not the Ad-blockers.

The NEED foradblockers arose due to widespread abuse, neglect, and malfeasance. Once the Advertisers eat enough of their own the the prospect of total collapse seems likely, maybe THEN they will consider responsible policing of the sh*te they’re so happy to foist on the lot of us. Until that day, client-side, edge firewall, etc. will all filter out this nonsense in any systems I design or administer, and adblock-blocking sites are DEAD to me, full stop..


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