I have used this blog to grumble about "Flash turds" – those super-annoying adverts whose determination to grab the eye brings them to the point of being a test for epilepsy. I’m not seeing many of them being built in Silverlight, yet, but it can only be a matter of time.
Fortunately I use IE7-Pro which has both an AD blocker and a Flash-blocker, which is more effective than simply disabling the Flash add on in IE – a box appears which says "Flash blocked" and I just have to click it if it is some part of a site which I want to see. It’s not 100% effective – Our own Live Spaces manages to bury its flash too deeply for IE7Pro to un-pick it, but IE7Pro will run scripts against pages it loads and I found a script in their forums to plug that gap. Hooray !
As O’Brien passed the telescreen a thought seemed to strike him. He stopped, turned aside and pressed a switch on the wall. There was a sharp snap. The voice had stopped.
Julia uttered a tiny sound, a sort of squeak of surprise. Even in the midst of his panic, Winston was too much taken aback to be able to hold his tongue.
‘You can turn it off!’ he said.
‘Yes,’ said O’Brien, ‘we can turn it off. We have that privilege.’
George Orwell: 1984
Once, we had to tolerate things like Pop-ups, then blockers became something that you had to add to a browser and now anyone with a reasonably up to date browser can take it for granted that Pop-ups will be blocked by default. IE7pro fills some of the gaps which were apparent in IE7 back when it was in beta (search on the context menu being an obvious one – and something IE8 addresses in a really smart way with "Activities"). IE7Pro also does a good job of blocking anti-social behaviours on otherwise useful web sites. The issue I find I come back to again and again is the responsibility of being Microsoft – not so much because we might squeeze third parties out of the market, but is it improper to have blocking abilities, out-of-the-box ? Making it too easy to block (lets say) Google Ads would have two problems – firstly if Microsoft is to develop its own advertising business, blocking a competitor would bring regulators down on us in minutes. Secondly there are plenty of sites out there which depend on Ad revenue, choking off their funding wouldn’t be good for anyone: I singled out Google’s ads because they are about as inoffensive as it is possible to make an ad (so unlike the Flash turds the reader gets no benefit by dumping them).
It’s all very well for me as one individual to rail against Bad Flash used in advertising, but there’s a question of what is legitimate to block. Pop-ups were universally hated, but what about blocking specific active-X controls (Flash, Silverlight, you choose) with a "click to re-enable" option ? What about providing methods to allow customers to block insidious advertisers, like Phorm ?
In case you haven’t picked up stories appearing everywhere from the BBC to The Register a number of UK ISPs propose to intercept the web traffic of their customers and pass it on to a third party to target advertising. The range of opinion runs from Sir TIm Berners-Lee saying he he would change his internet provider if it introduced such a system to a home office legal adviser suggesting that it was an interception of a communication within the meaning of sections 2(2) and 2(8) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), to Trend Micro telling the Register that "The nature of Phorm’s monitoring of all user web activity is certainly of some concern, and there is a very high chance that Trend Micro would add detection for the tracking cookies as adware in order to protect customers.". This sets my privacy antennae twitching , not least because my ISP is one of those said to be planning to use Phorm. What’s the best way to deal with it ?
- Legal – using things like RIPA and the office of Information Commissioner (as the FIPR has done)
- Market – ensuring any company which attempts to use Phorm loses business as a result. Like Sir Tim Berners-Lee I’ll be changing ISP if Virgin decide to spy on me; and I’ll try to Boycott any company which hosts Phorm ads on its site or places adverts with them. No doubt someone will publish a list of these companies.
- Or Technological – blocking it in the browser
Comments welcome (as ever).
(update – somehow lost a crucial NOT in there)