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Fathom Analytics blog / Feature

Bypass ad-blockers with custom domains

Ad-blockers and privacy-focused analytics platforms like ours should be on the same team... unfortunately, that’s not the case. Here’s how to use Fathom Analytics to bypass ad-blockers.

Ad-blockers and privacy-focused web analytics platforms like ours should be on the same team. We're both trying to make the web a safer and more anonymous place, free from personal data being tracked. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Since Fathom Analytics started, we have been committed to digital privacy and have never collected any personally identifiable information from visitors—making us GDPR, CCPA and PECR compliant. We ensure radical adherence to privacy laws, which has allowed us to be months ahead of other analytics providers with innovations such as EU Isolation, ensuring our software is compliant with the Schrems II ruling.

The problem is, some ad-blocking browser extensions see all external javascript as evil in general and block it completely. This makes sense when blocking scripts that track personal data for retargeting or even to block analytics companies that don't care about user privacy. But it doesn't make sense to block scripts like Fathom Analytics. One fundamental argument for not blocking privacy-focused analytics tools is that it's more beneficial to the world as a whole because it leads to people ditching Google Analytics because it's blocked everywhere, while privacy-focused services are not. Since these ad-blocking companies are unwilling to work with us, we've decided to take things into our own hands.

To prevent ad-blockers from blocking stats for your website (if your visitors use those browser extensions), we've come up with a solution that's both ingenious (not to toot our own horn or anything, but toot, toot!), and easy to implement for all of our customers.

Use a custom domain to bypass ad-blocking

Fathom Analytics now allows customers to create and use their own domains in their tracking code. The way we approach things is that we still attempt to use our main tracker code, but we fallback to your custom domain if the Fathom URL is blocked.

Customers can also use the same custom subdomain on all of their sites (remember, every Fathom Analytics plan comes with up to 50 websites); they just need to make sure they've modified the site ID in the tracking snippet.

Most ad-blockers won't block scripts that come from the same domain or subdomain (otherwise, all javascript on the internet would break), so our customers will be perfectly safe from ad-blockers when they use this feature. In addition, we don't use any predictable patterns that ad-blockers can target since both the generated subdomain and tracker filename are random.

Each Fathom Analytics account allows our customers to create custom domains, and it runs on top of our global, serverless infrastructure, which is blazingly fast to load.

How this works, technically speaking

When you create a custom domain, you can ask us to generate it randomly for you, and we'll give you something like beautiful-flying-duck.yourwebsite.com. Or you can specify it yourself, and choose the [value].yourwebsite.com. This allows us to avoid using any predictable patterns.

Then once you create it, you're issued with a dedicated CDN endpoint. You make a CNAME DNS entry, pointing to that CDN endpoint, and we take care of the rest.

Once it's set up, your custom domain is ready, and you have access to features such as excluding your IP from tracking, limiting your analytics to a single domain (on the server-side), blocking countries and other things.

Wait, is it ethical to circumvent ad-blockers?

As I said at the top of this piece, privacy-focused tools should all be on the same side. We're all working to ensure that the web is safer and a more anonymous place, free from personal data being tracked.

Not only is Fathom Analytics a solid Google Analytics alternative, we actually have a competitive advantage over them by dodging ad-blockers, which means our customers aren't sending data to Google. Since the start, this has been one of our main goals: to make websites a black hole to big tech.

Some research has said that over 30% of internet users have ad-blockers installed, which means almost one-third of traffic is not tracked in Google Analytics but could be using a custom domain in Fathom. Remember, Google is, first and foremost, an advertising company. Advertising companies are not known for their privacy, and Wikipedia has a page dedicated to Privacy concerns regarding Google. Comparatively, our customers pay us because they want privacy for their website visitors, delivered in a simple, beautiful way. Fathom could not exist without protecting the privacy of your website visitors, and we like it that way.

Since the sole purpose of ad-blockers is to protect privacy, and Fathom Analytics already does this, blocking them doesn't make browsing any less private. Our software already protects the privacy of visitors because we don't profile them or sell their data.

By dodging ad-blockers, simple website analytics like Fathom provide true and accurate numbers for top content, referrals and more—all without breaching anyone's privacy. It's a win-win.

Custom domains for our tracker file are available to every customer, starting today. If you need help setting them up, please refer to our support documentation.

And, if you aren't a customer yet but want to make your site immune to ad-blockers while maintaining your visitors' privacy (and GDPR compliance), sign up now for a free seven day trial of Fathom Analytics.

Paul Jarvis is a writer/designer and the co-founder of Fathom Analytics. He’s also the author of Company of One and the co-host of the Above Board podcast.

Posted in feature

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