Oh Great Mighty Amnesty International, Please Tell Me More About How We Should Learn to Love Targeted Ads

So yesterday, AdBlock displayed to its users some advertisements by Amnesty International purportedly to increase awareness about internet censorship. That is to say, in a complete lack of self-awareness typical of the tech sector, AdBlock thought it should educate people about internet freedom/privacy by infringing on the internet freedom/privacy which they were using AdBlock to protect.

Okay, to be more accurate, it thought it could sneak onto the anti-censorship bandwagon to contrive a friendly image in order to shill its plan to gradually let ads slip through its filter. Too bad the only thing it accomplished was make an ass of itself.

The Purpose of the Pompous and Rambling Letter

Cubbage, the AdBlock CEO, opens his letter by describing his decision and then touching on internet restrictions imposed by powerful countries, but don’t be fooled. Does he provide source for his claim that billions of people have their internet restricted? Does he elaborate on what kind of restriction he’s talking about? Does he even link to Amnesty International? Nah, he can’t even feign enough liberal posturing before launching into the only thing he knows: his business model. That’s why right after one generic sentence that lists North Korea and the United States as enemies of the internet, he fumes about how certain mean people on the internet think his AdBlock business is censorship and an attack on diversity. Geez, hire a fucking writer.

The reason internet censorship and AdBlock were put next to each other is simple, though. Cubbage is planning to sell out to ad companies to show its users ads that “[were] relevant an enjoyable to you” and that “you might actually want to see” — in other words, things that ad companies strive to accomplish anyways, but more on that later. In order to do that, Cubbage wants to appear to promote World Day Against Cyber Censorship, and then use his platform to argue somehow that him letting through some advertisers who pay him but not others is not censorship. I think he fails to appreciate that making excuses when he’s supposed to rail indignantly against North Korea makes his intentions a bit obvious, but hey, it’s not the first time tech companies are tone-deaf.

The Conversation About Advertisement

I won’t write Cubbage’s letter for him by elaborating very extensively about the links between internet privacy, censorship, surveillance, and advertising. Needless to say, he understandably fails to do so because that means illuminating to an uncomfortable degree the “debate [they]’ve been having with advertisers and websites for years.” That is, what to do with the incredible power AdBlock currently holds? I mean, who knows what annoying cause Cubbage will choose to support next? (Because I don’t think I have yet seen any liberal cause as lazy and boring as Piling on the Scaremongering About How North Korea is Eviler Than Evil.) Or, perhaps, which cause will he believe is righteous to block? And who will pay him to do so? Apparently, users have been left out of the conversation for years, but what other conversations are we not having?

Another conversation Cubbage is purposefully avoiding, which is strange given the role of AdBlock, is the need for advertisements in the first place. According to him, the only evil ads are the annoying ones about weight loss or some other scam, but relevant ads are a-ok. Maybe in a parallel universe without capitalism could ads be the innocuous entity Cubbage thinks it can be, but when more often than not they try to sell you the next wasteful product in pursuit of that one cent of marginal profit, they are questionable at best. I mean, it might be just me but I don’t give a fuck if Apple ads are sleek or clever, but Cubbage is talking as if there are good ads and bad ads differentiated solely by how much money companies throw at marketing and tracking us. But we don’t hear condemnations of ads in general, even from the AdBlock CEO, because ads are the foundation of capitalist society.

So what next? Should we boycott AdBlock? Should we boycott all ads because they are inherently evil? Ironically, I think we should do what Cubbage suggests and have a conversation — but a real conversation this time, with no false assumptions set by CEOs, and with much more extensive questions about what we should do rather than what we pray the companies will do should they feel merciful. Ultimately, no one, especially not Cubbage, can tell you to believe one way or another about ads, that’s for you to talk it out and decide for yourselves.

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