Privacy, Safe Harbor and ad blockers: When trust is key to business

Wild net neutrality vs. regulated standardized networks? Privacy for each vs. security for all? Free content with ads vs. pay-per-view? Are we bound to witness the development of the internet with the eyes of a war correspondent?

A few weeks ago, I have been at MeasureCamp in London, a bi-yearly analytics unconference that I find particularly stimulating (more about MeasureCamp here). I have held a session titled “More #Data, less #Privacy: Are we bound to finish naked?”. A summary of the discussion may be found here.

Provocative though the title may have been, the discussion was very constructive, and, as no clear solution seemed to emerge, it ended up with the only possible option, name it common sense, good will, mutual confidence… As for me, I shall keep the word “trust”, especially throughout this post for a good understanding.

Credit: Oleg Dudko via

Trust is is the common ground to the topics that I have named in the title of this post:

  • Privacy policies cannot be operative unless you trust the company storing your data, and in many instances, you may even call for a third party to handle this subject, which usually is called “trusted third-party”… A hot topic everywhere, especially with all the data leaks that have occurred in the recent weeks.
  • Safe Harbor has been put into question, and ultimately terminated by the EU Court of Justice, because trust had been broken between the US and Europe, not only because of the NSA spying scandal, but also of the divergent points of view about what the role of the Governments should be and their right to intrude into the business rules (see the endless debates on Net Neutrality and Right-to-be-forgotten, for instance on the NNSquad site)
Credit: Robert Churchill via
  • Ad blockers also are starting to be an issue, because trust has been mishandled there too. Let us forget the original sin of third-party cookies, when accepting primary cookies from a website, for it to work properly, led to cookies being transferred to scores of third-party users, mostly for ad targeting purposes… My main concern today is about the latest bias in that area, i.e. ad blockers dealing with ad servers so as to generate exceptions for them, and let some ads be displayed, now breaching trust with their own clients.

Let me focus on this specific problem.

OK, ad blockers are standing in the way of advertisers, but so far they are not killing them. Advertising is the key monetisation tool for many free-to-access websites, among which media and news are in the first row, but many models show that such websites still may succeed nevertheless (the Huffington Post, as an example of a pure player, or the New York Times as an example of a redeployment from a paper business model). And, although we all agree that purely free content may only be amateur, plagiary, or infomercial, still ad blockers are not threatening free speech and democracy. And some people may require some rest from all-too intrusive ads, and block them. That’s legitimate.

Still, those same people have to behave accordingly, and understand that not everything may be free. Economy is give and take, debit and credit, buy and sell. These people have to pay for added-value content, beyond Linkedin Pulse summaries, or Mediapost digest e-mails. Pay for an abo at the NY Times on-line for instance. It balances the loss of revenue (ad-blocking) for some websites with paid-for content, for instance news read behind a paywall. This is fair. This are good business rules. This also is all about trust.

Trust is when both sides do their part; trust is when people using ad-blockers buy content somehow; trust is when an ad-blocking software reminds you that not everything may be free on the web, and that you have to pay for some content; trust is when ad-servers are serving relevant ads in relevant quantity, not flooding us until we surrender (or block).

Credit: Maksym Fesenko via

But trust is broken when one of the parties is not playing a fair game; trust is broken with the users when an ad-blocking companies sells, at a very expensive price, bypassing ways for some ad-servers. Trust is broken when little arrangements are made between ad-blockers and ad-servers behind the back of the flock of consumers.

I shall not elaborate more about ad-blockers and especially about the AdBlock deal (more details here). And though this ad-blocker is a tool I have recommended in the past (in this 2014 post, for instance: Data Privacy, between a rock and a hard place), trust is now broken. And breaking trust means losing clients. At least some clients. AdBlock, you lost my trust, you lost me.

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