The idea that "every visitor blocking domains is a content thief" is patently absurd and should be blindly obvious even to digital publications that rely heavily on advertising revenues. What I find troubling about messages like this isn't so much that someone thought that guilting a person into allowing ads might work1, but that someone hasn't considered a better way to make use of the narrow window of opportunity that continues to exist. The picture of the kitten had to come from somewhere, right2? So what's preventing websites from using semi-static links to generic advertisements? This is what we did 15 years ago with a great deal of (initial) success.
This drum has been beaten a number of times in the past, but I am not at all keen on random companies following me around the web, regardless the reason. Showing targeted advertisements does not "add value to my reading experience". Fingerprinting my browser in order to build a history of what websites and specific pages I've visited without prior consent is not at all permitted, and I challenge anyone to convince me why it this isn't something that is disabled by default and we much individually choose to opt into3. Does this mean that visiting an article about this year's upcoming Lenovo notebooks can't have ads on it? Not in the least.
If I were to run an advertising network that made the bulk of its money collecting and selling information about website visitors while also presenting semi-meaningful advertisements that fit into specific boxes, this is what I would do:
- sell "generic" advertisement space for a fraction of whatever the average real-time bidding price for a site or genre happens to be
- have websites dedicate a certain amount of storage space to keep static advertisement images local
- have plugins for the site's CMS (be it WordPress, Joomla, Moodle, or what-have-you) regularly sync keywords from the site's pages with generic-enough advertisements
- profit a little bit more
People who block domains will then continue to see ads, though they may not be the most targeted. If collecting as much data is absolutely crucial, which many seem to believe is true, then perhaps the images could be served a little more dynamically with the CMS plugin recording the browser information at the same time as an advertisement is requested. That data can then be sent back to the ad network for analysis. IP addresses and basic browser details are generally part of every web request already, so it's not like we're giving up an excessive amount of personal or private data this way.
Perhaps by doing this the asinine little "please let our dozen revenue streams track you!" banners can go away and sites can continue to earn a bit of revenue from people like me who are wholly untrusting of disrespectful website code.
I'm sure this does work for some people, but anyone who is easily guilted into doing something a website tells them will probably not use an Ad Blocker browser plugin or outright block domains like I do.
Looking at the source CSS, the image is coming from a static file on the web server itself, which naturally would clear the domain blocking list if I can access the site to begin with.
As one might expect, I have serious trust issues with opt-ins and opt-outs as I believe most of these are just placebos to cover up the fact that our data is being siphoned/stolen/sorted/sold regardless what level of permission we give a web service.