So, it's come to this. After battling back against ad-blocking by guilting or forcing people into whitelisting sites -- rather than taking a good look at their terrible ad inventories, intrusive trackers, or reprehensible practices -- the press is turning to the FTC in hopes of having the government decide how you can surf the web. (h/t EFF)
The crux of the complaint [PDF] is various practices deployed by ad blockers that the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) considers to be anti-competitive or dishonest. But in its run-up to the actual complaints, the NAA makes some seriously stupid assertions.
Adblockers undermine the ability of publishers to continue to provide free or reduced-price content on the Internet because they undercut publishers’ ability to finance enterprise journalism, and they threaten the livelihood of journalists and other content creators.
This assertion continues to scapegoat ad blocking for many publications' decision to force readers to play "find the content" when visiting their sites. As user ad blindness eventually rendered banner ads invisible, the response has been to escalate intrusion, via new ad delivery methods like popunder/popups, autoplay video ads, pervasive trackers, or escalating encroachment of ads into the "content" area. If ad blocker usage is more prevalent, publishers really have no one but themselves to blame.
And there's nothing out there that suggests the only way a publication can remain profitable is by assaulting users with ads and tracking them all over the internet. But that's the narrative publishers have chosen because it's simpler to make users conform to their wishes than it is to cede ground to site visitors' best interests.
From there, the NAA's narrative gets even worse. In deriding "free-rider technology," the NAA defends its use of invasive trackers by implying that all content -- whether it's ads or the stuff site visitors actually want to see -- is equal in its eyes.
By preventing publishers from identifying repeat visitors and making these offers to them, content blockers harm consumers.
"Content blockers." If that's a slip, it's a Freudian one. This suggests those behind this letter to the FTC consider advertising to be just as worthwhile a use of bandwidth and user attention as the actual journalism buried underneath it.
In the NAA's eyes, the real villain here is "deceptive" ad blockers.
Ad-blocking companies argue that consumers should use their software to “opt out” of the online advertising ecosystem, either because of concerns with privacy or the data use represented by digital advertising. But as a review of the practices of adblocking companies discloses, consumers do not “opt out” of an ecosystem by using ad-blockers. Instead, they “opt in” to a deceptive new environment that does not adequately disclose its practices to consumers.
The supposed "deception" the NAA refers to is things like AdBlock Plus selling companies spaces on its "whitelist." Then it has the audacity to make claims about the darkish shade of ad blockers' kettles by claiming any information about these built-in whitelists is buried in the terms of service. Burial of crucial details under several pages of fine print is SOP for 99.9% of the internet -- including (especially) the same tracking software the NAA says is crucial to the survival of the industry.
The NAA also claims that evading paywalls -- if enabled by ad blockers -- is an "unfair method of competition." Considering how easy it is to evade most paywalls (via referral links, Google searches, going "incognito," etc.), it seems rather disingenuous to claim the automation of this process is somehow a violation of trade laws. For that matter, the complaint offers no proof that any popular ad-blocking extension actually offers this "service." (There are extensions written solely for that purpose, however.)
The complaint also takes issue with "replacement" services that substitute bad ads with better ads or offer micropayments to sites in exchange for blocking their revenue generators. The NAA insists these, too, are deceptive and should be kicked of the 'net by the FTC.
But most worryingly, the NAA wants internet users to be forbidden from taking steps to protect their privacy.
Some ad-blockers evade metered subscription services and paywalls by preventing publishers from identifying repeat visitors and making offers to consumers about their subscription services…
While it doesn't specifically name any apps or extensions that act in the interest of users' privacy, the wording used implies the use of IP-address obscuring options (VPNs, Tor) along with script blockers and software like the EFF's Privacy Badger are similarly unwelcome in its plan for the future.
What the NAA wants is an internet that operates on its terms. It wants to continue to deploy shitty ad inventories and allow users to take the bandwidth hit, all the while shadowing them across the web in hopes of shoving even more ads in their faces. There's no hint of a compromise in this complaint. It wants the FCC to force the web to bend to the NAA's will. At no point does it even consider the ramifications of this action. It's pure self-interest, disguised as a concern for poor consumers who have voted to opt-out of ad onslaughts by using "deceptive" ad blockers.