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Why ad-blockers are fighting the wrong war

Why ad-blockers are fighting the wrong war
Written by Paul Jarvis
November 9, 2021 · Return to blog

Ad-blockers may have started out small and relatively niche but have since exploded in popularity. The first ad-blocking browser extension was released in 2002 to very little fanfare, but by 2009, they hit a 20-million user milestone, and today, ad-blockers are used by a whopping 43% of internet users worldwide.

If you think about it, ad-blockers exist to protect your digital privacy and Fathom (privacy-first website analytics) also exists to protect your digital privacy. That’s why Fathom doesn’t collect personal information, nor does our software stalk people across the web, and most importantly, we are compliant with all significant privacy laws around the world.

You think we’d be on the same team, right?
If you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Some ad-blockers block our main script URL cdn.usefathom.com simply because it’s a third-party javascript. They don’t care that we pioneered a method to anonymize visitor data while still keeping track of if a visitor is unique or not. They don’t care that we practice data minimization and purposefully don’t collect personal details about visitors (our data is in aggregate on purpose). They don’t care that our entire company’s business model is set up to charge money for our software instead of making money from data. They don’t care that we created the world’s first simple, privacy-focused analytics platform to fight back against our common enemy: Big Tech.

They simply see “third-party javascript” and wrongly assume it should be blocked. This is interesting because, based on research into digital trends, the reasons people use ad-blockers are not in line with what ad-blockers block.

Why people use Ad-blockers worldwide

Let’s look at the reasons why people use ad-blockers because, as you’ll see, none of these reasons would apply to a software tool like Fathom.

  1. 22.3% - Excessive amounts of ads
  2. 22.3%, The irrelevance of ad messages
  3. 19.9%, Ads are too intrusive
  4. 16.7%, Ads take up too much screen space
  5. 16.5%, Ads contain viruses or bugs
  6. 14.6%, To speed up page loading times
  7. 11.2%, Ads might compromise my online privacy

All but one reason above relates specifically to online advertising. We fully agree that, as consumers, we should get to have control over what ads we see (both online and offline). And most importantly, our personal information shouldn’t be used to determine what ads we’re shown unless we’ve given consent to do this. This is why most people use ad-blockers, and it’s something we’re on the same page with at Fathom: we don’t want to see intrusive and privacy-invading ads either as we surf the internet.

To be obvious here, Fathom has nothing to do with advertising in any way.

Our software doesn’t serve ads, our software doesn’t collect data for ads, our software doesn't sell data to ad brokers, and our software definitely doesn’t generate revenue from ads. We’re the solution that people choose when they want to avoid all of that. We’re the option to prevent Google Analytics from being used to track activity across websites on the internet.

The sixth reason is interesting as it’s the only top reason that relates to speed. We’ve written about if Fathom affects your site’s page load time (and therefore your SEO) and found that it most certainly does not. And even more interesting is that we found using Fathom instead of Google Analytics can actually improve your page speed and thus improve your SEO as well. So Fathom doesn’t affect page load times, and therefore isn’t a valid contender for reason #6.

Why people use Ad-blockers in the US

According to another study on the use of ad-blockers, specific to Americans, we can see further proof that people use ad-blockers to avoid targeted ads and not for reasons that relate to privacy-focused software like Fathom.

  1. 71%, Websites are more manageable without banners
  2. 46%, Avoiding offensive or irrelevant images/messages
  3. 44%, Not wanting their behaviour to be tracked
  4. 41%, Websites load faster without ads

Just like the worldwide study, internet users in the US feel similarly as to the reasons why they use ad-blockers in the first place: to protect themselves from advertising and keep sites loading quickly. And, just like the first study, this means none of the reasons people use ad-blockers relate to software like Fathom.

Conclusion

At Fathom, privacy comes first. Not just in marketing, but in how we build our software. Every feature, before it’s made, is carefully considered against digital privacy and privacy law around the world. If we, our legal team, and our privacy officer don’t feel a feature does everything it can to protect the digital privacy of everyone on the internet, the feature doesn’t get built. This is how we’ve run our company from the very beginning.

Based on the data from the studies mentioned above, people don’t use ad-blockers to stop Fathom from collecting anonymous pageview data. In fact, most of our customers, who all care about privacy, use ad-blockers (we do too when surfing the web). This is why we’ve invented our custom domain solution to bypass ad-blockers because our software cares as much about privacy as the folks who create ad-blockers (and maintain their “block lists”).

If you use Google Analytics, you lose 43% of visitor data because ad-blockers block Google Analytics—and rightfully so. But the main trade-off here (there are many trade-offs in using “free” software like GA) is that you only get data for about half your visitors. Meaning, you only know what half of them are reading, where half of them are coming from, and what half of them are buying, signing up for or clicking on. With Fathom and our custom domain solution, you get the whole enchilada of data about 100% of the visitors to your website, all without compromising their privacy (or breaking any privacy laws).

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, we really should be on the same side (Fathom and ad-blocker software companies) because we’re up against the same Goliath of an enemy: Big Tech and their nefarious practices about tracking personal data without our consent. But since they refuse to acknowledge companies like Fathom, who are doing right by privacy-focused analytics, we have to circumvent their technology with custom domains. And based on the research into why people use ad-blockers in the first place, we feel great about how we continue to innovate by bypassing them completely.

Posted in knowledge

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